How Dark Passion Play saved Nightwish’s career – and Tuomas Holopainen’s sanity

A photograph of Nightwish taken in 2007

After making international headlines for the tumultuous manner in which original singer Tarja Turunen was booted out of the band in 2005, Nightwish’s future looked uncertain. For a band that had started making huge strides into the metal mainstream with 2004 breakthrough Once, making a crucial album without the unmistakable pipes of one of metal’s most unique singers seemed a daunting ask.

“It was the biggest storm in the band’s history,” says keyboardist and band mastermind Tuomas Holopainen. “But it was also very inspirational.”

If the band were galled at the task ahead of them, it certainly didn’t show, as they attacked it with the kind of fearless ambition that has since become a calling card for the Finns. Nightwish began spreading recording sessions across Europe – including what was said to be a particularly pricey, eight-day stint at London’s Abbey Road studios – bringing in an orchestra, two different choirs and numerous guest musicians for what would become the most expensive Finnish album ever made, clocking in at over 500,000 Euros.

“We definitely took a lot of risks,” Tuomas admits. “It was an exciting time and a phenomenal experience, but the scary thing was that the instrumental parts and the choir were done when we still didn’t have a singer!”

Eventually, the band would bring in Swedish AOR singer Anette Olzon, whose poppier vocals marked a substantial difference to Tarja’s operatic tones, consolidating Dark Passion Play as a massive departure on every level. And then there was the music. From the glorious, cinematic bombast of Master Passion Greed, Sahara and Whoever Brings The Night, to the syrupy glisten of Amaranth and Eva, the ballsy, no-punches-pulled F-U of Bye Bye Beautiful to the gorgeous folky balladry of The Islander, Dark Passion Play was an absolute triumph, anchored by its bold and brilliant opening gambit, 13-minute epic The Poet And The Pendulum – at that point the longest song the band had ever recorded. More than a decade after it revitalised the band and gave them arguably their finest moment yet, Tuomas remains proud of the album’s legacy.

“The whole band was very inspired and we were all really confident about the material. The Poet And The Pendulum, Bye Bye Beautiful and Master Passion Greed were all borne out of the turmoil we’d gone through,” he says. “It would be an exaggeration to say Dark Passion Play saved my life, but it definitely saved my mental health.”

It also saved the band’s career, and while the Dark Passion Play lineup would only last one further album, it still revitalised one of metal’s biggest bands and produced an absolute classic.